Remembering Not to Forget 9/11

We were walking through a mall last month and were greeted by a large mural dedicated to the victims of 9/11, part of which read: "Never forget."

Never forget? That phrase always made me cringe. Who could forget such a thing? Who could forget the pain, the loss, the rage, the image of smoke, fire, and buildings collapsing while people ran for safety? Who could forget such a powerful, staggering loss?

Not me.

It was a perfect day. Blue skies, fluffy clouds, September warmth.  I sat at my desk, the day's work put aside briefly for my morning blog entry, something mundane about not getting the timestamps right on the blog. Normal, ordinary day.  I still lived in a state of mind where I felt the world was a mostly decent place, that people were mostly good, that life would hold no big surprises that I couldn't handle. And then it happened.

The perfection, the absolute banality of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, was shattered. After a few minutes of struggling to connect to and listening to people run into my office with reports (the White House was on fire, there were ten hijacked planes in the air -- a real myriad of false, alarming information), I called a family member who was still sleeping. "Wake up, the world is ending."

The next days, months, years were a succession of anger, tears, and anxiety. I grieved with my father over the loss of his friends and colleagues. I attended a memorial service for a bomb squad detective that included snipers standing sentry on the roof of my childhood church.

Our lives were consumed by this one event. Every day was another new alert, another funeral, another service.  Every conversation began with a deep sigh. Every plane in the sky was greeted with apprehension, yet every moment of nothing flying above us was filled with anxiety. We hugged. We held hands. We had a shared community of both despair and hope.  Schools were on guard. Malls were on alert. War was coming. Who knew what else was coming with it? We sought revenge. We sought justice. We sought to relieve ourselves and the country of a rage and sadness that had swept over us.